PICKENS COUNTY, S.C. (WYFF) - A large-scale drug trafficking operation in Pickens County has ended in the seizure of $20 million worth of drugs and 40 firearms, according to Pickens County Sheriff Rick Clark.
In June 2018, agents with Pickens County Sheriff’s Office, along with numerous Upstate law enforcement agencies, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and the state grand jury division of the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office, began investigating a large-scale drug trafficking operation in the Upstate.
The investigation, given code name “Prison Empire,” quickly grew to include the Midlands and other states, according to WYFF News in Greenville.
Clark said it was given that name because a large part of the drug trafficking organization was operated by convicted inmates who are currently serving active prison sentences inside the South Carolina Department of Corrections.
This investigation revealed that the criminal organization, which included both SCDC inmates and their co-defendants on the streets, were responsible for having trafficked more than 500 kilograms of methamphetamine and multiple kilograms of heroin and cocaine, most of which were destined for locations in the Upstate.
The assessed street values of these illegal drugs are estimated to be in excess of $20,000,000.
In addition to illegal drugs, the investigation resulted in the seizure of over 40 firearms from street contacts, as well as numerous contraband cellular telephones possessed by inmates within the South Carolina Department of Corrections.
"Unfortunately, this investigation highlights an ongoing issue that both law enforcement and corrections officers deal with on a daily basis; the fact that SCDC inmates routinely gain access to cellular telephones," Clark said. "On an increasingly frequent basis, we are finding that the conviction of an offender does not lead to an end of their nefarious activities and their victimization of our communities. Instead, technological advances in cellular telephones have allowed incarcerated subjects to not only remain connected with their pre-existing criminal networks, but to expand upon them once inside of prison. Cellular telephones are the conduit by which communication, countersurveillance, and financial transactions are facilitated; without them inside of the prison system, the need for this investigation would likely not exist."
The investigation resulted in the arrest of 54 people who were indicted on 192 counts.
Several of the defendants are inmates incarcerated in prisons throughout the state.
Clark said authorities are still looking for Jennifer Nicole Burns and Jacob Austin Collins in connection with this case.
The defendants in this investigation were indicted through the state grand jury and all who are in custody have been transported to the Greenville County Detention Center for booking and bond hearings.
“It is unacceptable that in the year 2019, we cannot legally jam inmates’ contraband cellphones,” said Bryan Stirling, director of the S.C. Department of Corrections. “The technology exists to stop them. It’s time for Congress to let us do so.”